It wasn’t so long ago that I received the flurry of best of the year book lists that appeared every December with a sense of panic. List after list would leave me wondering if I had wasted the previous year reading weird books no one else wanted to read. (This also happens when someone wins a book award and I’ve never heard of them before.) But, after a few years of being a librarian and seeing just how many hundreds (thousands) of books are published ever year, I realized that something had to give.
I still think there’s value in having common reading experiences. And I definitely believe that we need to challenge ourselves to read widely and deeply. But any reader has to learn that it’s just not possible to read everything that everyone else is reading. There’s too much and we have jobs, families, significant others, exercise regimes, pets, friends, that pesky need to get our heads on a pillow regularly, etc., etc. At times, a best of year list can seem like an assigned reading list. Pushing ourselves to read books we don’t like (no matter how many critics adore them) or just have no interested in (oh my god, enough with the pseudo-science alternative medicine already!).
For any reader who sees the best of year lists and panics, I say: step back, take a breath, and think about the books you enjoyed during the previous twelve months. If there’s overlap, cheer yourself on for having great taste! If not, cheer yourself on anyway because you are blazing new trails and reading books that need a wider audience. Most importantly, if you’re not reading what everyone else is reading and you’re having fun with what you’re reading, remember that you are doing this reading thing right. Reading is supposed to be something we enjoy, not a chore.
And if anyone asks if you’ve read this year’s books and you haven’t, well, just say: “No, but I did read X and I loved it!” Instead of falling prey to FOMO, give yourself the gift of swapping recommendations with another reader.